Nun-speak, none-speak – Jones, Scahill and Stop the War

By John Hilley (Zen Politics)

Mother Agnes Mariam el-Salib
Mother Agnes Mariam el-Salib

There’s been significant fallout over a forthcoming Stop the War conference, after Jeremy Scahill and Owen Jones threatened to withdraw unless Syrian-based nun Mother Agnes was removed from the invited list of speakers.

As noted in a brief announcement from StW, she has now stood down, registering her disappointment and hope of future engagement.

It was notable that both Scahill and Jones announced their objections to her inclusion following tweets from Muhammad Idrees Ahmad and his Pulse media site urging them not to participate.

Ahmad and Pulse have denounced Mother Agnes as an Assad collaborator and propagandist, charges she and varied supporters have strongly rejected.

Beyond obvious war crimes on all sides, doubts and questions over responsibility for many atrocities in Syria remain, as detailed even in major Western intel. So, it’s not unreasonable that Mother Agnes’s claims should be subject to the same caution and scrutiny.

Yet, who, we may ask, are the more wilful propagandists here for war and increased suffering in Syria?

Ahmad/Pulse have been strident critics of the “anti-imperialist left’s” ‘dogmatic’ opposition to Western intervention and ‘disregard’ for suffering Syrians.

In a piece for Al Jazeera US outlining the political and humanitarian ramifications of non-intervention, Ahmad concluded that an:

“externally imposed solution is less egregious than dooming Syria to prolonged war.”

Ahmad has also used the self-proclaimed ‘take-down’ of David Bromwich to amplify his wider charge of left ‘Monsterphilia’. Bromwich’s response includes a measured dismissal of Ahmad’s distorted language, while repeating his warning against any more disastrous US/Nato interventions like Libya.

A similar call for an “externally-imposed solution” is evident in this piece from Not George Sabra [sic], a figure endorsed by Ahmad:

The anti-war movement in the West got what it wanted: the war in Syria grinds on without the involvement of the only force capable of ending the bloody stalemate, the U.S. military [my emphasis].

Should we accept such invocations of US military force? Is this the only way of ending the bloodshed? Are we to believe these ‘humanitarian’ voices for Syria? And, if not, what does it say about their denunciation of figures like Mother Agnes as ‘propagandists’ and ‘regime apologists’?

StW are mistaken in succumbing to apparent pressure from Jones and Scahill over this issue. Mother Agnes may, indeed, be a defender of Assad. But she shares that view with a decisive section of Syrian society who either support his government in this civil war or, despite his oppressions and crimes, fear and reject the greater threat of Western-supported/jihadist forces fighting to replace him. Whatever the authenticity or otherwise of her claims, is there not a reasonable case for hearing such voices?

StW speaker Tariq Ali articulates a more nuanced view of the Syrian conflict – clearly rejecting Assad, but also seeing the vital political complexities and external forces driving imperialist and sectarian interests – and is still routinely castigated by Pulse et al for doing so. Is he also to be dropped from the panel as an ‘Assad apologist’?

More particularly for an anti-war body, whatever questions may hang over Mother Agnes’s position, involvement and accounts, there’s little to indicate her actual promotion of war, something that distinguishes her from those like Ahmad with their encouragement of an “externally-imposed solution” and urgings of US ‘capability’.

Despite the withdrawal of Mother Agnes, Ahmad and Pulse still have Stop the War in their sights, insisting that she would have remained as a speaker if not for Scahill and Jones:

@STWuk Had it not been for @jeremyscahill & @OwenJones84‘s principled stance, you won’t have considered disinviting her. Kudos to them.

— PULSE (@im_PULSE) November 17, 2013

This may, indeed, have been the case, with StW feeling more worried about ‘losing’ Jones and Scahill than Mother Agnes – though, even with Mother Agnes relinquishing her invite, StW could have stated unequivocally that she still had a right to speak.

But the Pulse charge against StW and its presentation of the issue is motivated by much darker intent, as indicated in this further tweet:

@alexhiniker It matters how they are presenting it. Since @STWuk shares much of Mother Agnes’s politics. Both have repeatedly blamed victims

— PULSE (@im_PULSE) November 16, 2013 [My emphasis.]

This is the repeated mischief from Ahmad/Pulse that StW not only support/excuse Assad but, more perniciously, that such left opponents of Western intervention have “repeatedly blamed [the] victims”.

The intellectual dishonesty, indeed mendacity, of this line should need little elaboration. Yet, its crassness is equalled only by the vitriol behind its relentless delivery.

Did it ever occur to Ahmad and Pulse that the very act of opposing yet another aggressive Western intervention is a humanitarian act in itself, serving to prevent more victims – even if it cannot halt the existing suffering or resolve the civil war?

That should be reasonably obvious. But it gets in the way of Ahmad’s cynical contrivance that the ‘Monsterphile left’ is not only blind to civilian suffering in their ‘obsessive hatred’ of Western imperialism, but that they are also guilty of blaming the Syrian people for their enduring misery.

Thus, Ahmad’s strident denunciation of StW (at Facebook):

If you want to find the armpit of humanity, visit London on November 30 and attend this International “antiwar” Conference. [My emphasis.]

It’s notable here that while Ahmad/Pulse have been resounding in their praise for Owen’s and Scahill’s actions, they have been contrastingly silent over their continued participation, minus Mother Agnes, in this “armpit” assembly.

In pursuit of serious explanations, Joe Emersberger has asked Scahill to defend his position on Mother Agnes. Beyond lame replies, no reasoned account has, as yet, appeared.

Interventions Watch also ask why Owen Jones would take moral umbrage over the presence of Mother Agnes while sharing panels and platforms with Labour elites who took primary roles in the mass crime against Iraq and the vital propaganda that accompanied it.

These are questions that Jones regularly evades and dismisses, ones that have been wilfully unaddressed by an entire liberal-left media, of which he’s now a prominent, prestigious part.

Thus, for example, can Alastair Campbell appear on Question Time, write like a feted guest at the Guardian, host Have I Got News For You and give Humanitas lectures at Oxford.

How can someone so directly involved in spinning the lies for the slaughter of so many people be accorded that kind of indulgent protection? Precisely because, while ever-ready to denounce foreign despots and their apologists, so many left-liberals see no equivalence, or worse, with ‘our’ criminal leaders and propagandists.

Beyond the controversy of ‘nun-speak’, might that StW gathering find serious time and able guests to press people like Jones and Scahill on this much more vital issue of liberal-left ‘none-speak’, with its calamitous licence for mass Western warmongering?

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  1. Pingback: Jeremy Corbyn and George Soros – barbaramckenzie

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